With Less Than 100 Days Until Student Loan Payments Resume, Van Hollen, Warren, and Colleagues Call for Exiting Servicers’ Plans to Correct Errors and Smoothly Transition The Accounts of Nearly 16 Million Borrowers
United States Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) joined Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Robert Menendez (D- N.J.), and Tina Smith (D-Minn.) in sending letters to the heads of Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA), Granite State Management & Resources (Granite State), and the Navient Corporation (Navient) calling on them to correct past errors with borrowers’ accounts and address growing concerns over their preparedness to transfer millions of borrowers to new servicers. The letters were sent with only 90 days before student loan payments — which have been on pause for federal borrowers since March 2020 — are set to resume on January 31, 2022.
In recent months, PHEAA, Granite State, and Navient have all announced that they are exiting their contracts with the federal government or are transferring their contract to a new operator, meaning that roughly 16 million borrowers will be transferred to a new servicer. With limited time before student loan payments are scheduled to resume, the senators are calling on the loan servicers to provide concrete plans to ensure account errors are corrected and to maintain adequate staffing and documentation to protect borrowers throughout the transition.
“Student loan servicers have a long history of misleading borrowers about available options, mismanaging programs, and cheating borrowers out of protections developed to help them pay back their student loans. In previous transfers, failures to transfer complete and accurate information left hundreds of thousands of borrowers with account problems that continue to plague the federal loan portfolio today,” wrote the senators.
The senators continued, “Given this history, we are concerned that the upcoming transition of 16 million borrowers to a new servicer will result in further harm.”
PHEAA and Navient, in particular, have repeatedly made missteps that harm borrowers. PHEAA has been responsible for delaying recertification in income-driven repayment plans, placing borrowers in forbearance or deferment, and miscounting qualifying payments. Navient has repeatedly provided inaccurate information, incorrectly processed payments, ignored borrowers’ concerns, and has been scrutinized for “harassing and abusing” their borrowers while “ma(king) it difficult for them to repay their loans.” Especially during transition periods, loan servicers have a history of making mistakes that can cause borrowers to lose months of qualifying payments toward forgiveness in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness and Income-Driven Repayment programs, deal with incorrect loan balances, or face penalties due to incorrectly processed payments.
In the letters, the senators raised additional concerns about transferring tens of millions of borrowers’ accounts to new student loan servers as payments are scheduled to resume in January 2022:
“This matter is made more urgent because there are only 90 days until the end of the pause in student loan payments that has been in place since the beginning of the COVID-19 public health emergency, which will result in a resumption of payments of scheduled payments on January 31, 2022 for tens of millions of borrower’s accounts. This restart is expected to be an unprecedented logistical challenge for borrowers, the Department of Education, and loan servicers. After having their payment and interest suspended for nearly two years, more than a third of all federal borrowers will also be returning to repayment with a new servicer, which has the potential to lead to confusion, delays, and an unusually high need for customer service support.”
Specifically, the senators are seeking information about plans to ensure that borrowers’ accounts and information are accurate, and plans for document retention and transitional staffing so borrowers are not further harmed as payments resume. The senators asked for responses to their concerns by November 17, 2021.
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